HOCC: “I think in a world where so often kids are judged, that open door policy, is just refreshing”

Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

“I was born and raised in Calvert County and had some fantastic opportunities to sing with some fantastic teachers, in a wide variety of venues. When I was a senior in college, I approached a local pastor about starting a youth choir, and Voices in Praise began. That was 20 years ago, and we started with seven singers and now we typically have 40-50 singers on our roster from several counties. We are fortunate that kids that like to sing, know other kids who like to sing, so our marketing is done through word-of-mouth. So when they are looking for an outlet, Voices in Praise often comes-up in conversation, and they find their way to us.

We are based out of Friendship United Methodist Church, but we are open to everyone, and only 25% of our singers, come from that church. The other 75% either come from another church or no home church. It is an exceptionally welcoming environment, That, in addition to, incredible music, and lots of unique opportunities to sing and be in service with other people is what makes Voices in Praise really special. The culture of our choir is one where kids are welcomed and valued and affirmed and from the moment they walk in the doors, they have a home there. It doesn’t matter where they go to school, or church, or even if they can sing, if they want to be a part of our choir, they are welcome. There is no audition or fee, so literally, all you have to do is show up. I think in a world where so often kids are judged, that open door policy, is just refreshing. 

I think we have some pretty amazing opportunities. We sing each year at the National Christmas Tree Lighting in D.C., and we also perform all around this area including at the Naval Academy Chapel, Asbury Retirement Community, Project Echo, to people who are homebound under Hospice care. We sign everywhere, and then we take what we do and go on the road. We have been outside the country several times, and go all around the region and perform as well. To support this, we have regular fundraisers, but we also have great parent and donor support. No child misses out on being involved in our program for financial reasons.

From the point this started, I really wanted this to be a high-quality program. I wanted us to be our musical best for the glory of God. We work really hard, and we do incredible music, but there is something to be said for looking at a piece and saying, ‘Have we done the best that we can do?’ And when we have done our best, then we have met our goal. We often say that you don’t have to sing about God, to be in his service. We think that you can serve people by singing secular-based music. For example, we sing at a Memorial Day celebration and in addition to singing the National Anthem, we sing a medley that weaves together all the songs, of all the branches of the armed forces. It’s not church music, but you can bet that when you sing that, and the audience of veterans rise as the song from their branch is sung, that you have done an act of service.

We know from science that music improves health, in some really unique ways. I think that kids just need more places in addition to their homes where they are loved, challenged and cared for, and Voices in Praise does that. It’s a culture of belonging and caring. I think one of my students said it best when they said, ‘You know, whatever has happened in my day, I come to rehearsal and I leave feeling better.’ To me, that’s the highest compliment you can give me about this program.”

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